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Buddhist temple on a cold mountain of fire

Buddhist temple on a cold mountain of fire
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Date:
Location:
Country:
Latitude:
Longitude:
Altitude:
19 September 2016
Terelj Nat Park
Mongolia
46°56'N
107°26'E
1540-1610m ASL
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A PARTICULARLY hard granite outcrop appeared in the middle of the forested valley we were following in the heart of the Terelj National Park. We pulled off the gravel road to get a better look. Aptly named Turtle Rock, this granite dome was tough enough to have survived the ravages of glaciation when ice filled the valley for thousands of years at a time during many ice ages. The ice was long gone.

Turtle Rock

Turtle Rock

Despite the extremely cold winters this region experiences, the short summers here are long enough for the ice to melt each season. There was no sign of any ice here, but with the summer quickly drawing to a close, the forests following the streams and sheltered in the steep gullies of the granite mountains had turned brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow with the onset of autumn.

Spectacular granite outcrops

Spectacular granite outcrops

Following our brief stop to look at Turtle Rock, we continued along the dusty road heading towards the back of the valley, the source of the glacier running along the valley during the past ice ages.

A ger village

A ger village

The road ended at a brightly coloured small building, marking the entrance to the grounds of the Aryabal Buddhist Meditation Centre, a large Buddhist Temple complex. This building doubled as a small art store. We purchased our tickets and headed through the entrance of the temple grounds.

Temple entrance

Temple entrance

The grounds were enormous, the jagged arête marking the boundary nicely framing the old glacial cirque formed in recent ice ages when thick ice permanently covered these frozen wastelands for thousands of years at a time. Now the summers here were just long enough to melt all the snow and for trees to grow. With the long winter about to commence though, the deciduous trees were brilliant in their colours, making a final display as the trees were nodding off to sleep over the coming winter.

Looking towards the main temple

Looking towards the main temple

A wide gravel path, curiously representing an elephant’s trunk, followed the valley about thirty degrees left of the small and distant temple. We followed this path heading through the tall grass, golden with seed heads ready to disperse their seeds to hide under the coming snows before the eventual thaw of spring when they will sprout to life.

Signs along the path

Signs along the path

Beside the right hand side of the path were 72 evenly spaced brightly painted wooden signs. Each sign had two motivational Buddhist teachings painted on them, both in Cyrillic Mongolian and in English. There wasn’t time to read every one of them, but collectively the quotes told an inspirational story of the Buddhist journey, resembling the short pilgrimage we were making up this most enchanting valley.

Pagoda

Pagoda

The path was now ascending a moderately gentle slope heading towards a small building. A few steps made the final ascent to this small building where a large Buddhist prayer wheel stood under a gazebo. By spinning the wheel from right to left, it brings you good luck and eliminates bad karma. This particular wheel was a bit like a wheel of fortune where it would stop on one of many pictures to indicate your future.

Spinning the wheel

Spinning the wheel

From the gazebo the path turned 90 degrees to the right to traverse across the back of the steep valley as it moderately rose towards the main temple.

The path continues

The path continues

The track changed dramatically with the signs continuing (now on the left hand side), but there were also strings of brightly coloured cloths hanging above the track. The track wound its way around spurs and gullies, each spur having a viewing point down the beautiful valley extended down as far as the eye could see between the jagged granite peaks, following the path of the old glacier.

Flags blowing in the wind

Flags blowing in the wind

Looking above us, the valley rose very steeply, occasionally forming almost vertical faces of granite upon which brightly coloured faces and symbols were painted, perhaps Buddhist deities watching over the sacred temple.

Faces painted in the rock

Faces painted in the rock

Eventually we reached the bottom of some weathered granite steps heading up to the modest temple. We climbed the steps through the thin mountain air under the bright sun until reaching the entrance to the temple.

Final steps to the temple

Final steps to the temple

A large Buddha sat in the back of the brightly decorated temple. It was dark inside apart from some small windows allowing tunnels of harsh sunlight to stream in. The stillness of the temple marked the melancholy climax of our adventure up the valley.

Inside the temple

Inside the temple

Far away from any traffic noise, this was the ideal place for solitude. The crisp autumn air was bearable, though the inside of the temple itself was a little cold to linger for too long. It would have been freezing and draughty here in the long dark winters, but I would think few people would visit at that time of year. The locals would be hibernating the winter away and the tourists would be very few and far between.

View from the temple

View from the temple

Following some quiet time inside the temple we headed back down the stairs to follow a track descending through the fiery deciduous forest making a direct path back to the entrance, completing our pilgrimage to this remote Mongolian monastery.

 
 
 

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